COVINGTON -- Officials are warning that the extremely dry weather pattern that has settled over the Southeast is increasing the risk of wildfires.
Newton County Fire Service's Lt. Cydnie Taylor said so far for 2010, there have been 97 open land fires called into their agency, but August and September alone accounted for 21 of those fires.
"We definitely see an increase when open burning is allowed," Taylor said. "This is commonly due to citizens not following Georgia Forestry Commission rules and regulations for outdoor burning."
Taylor said too often people leave fires unattended, burn too close to structures, burn too much yard debris in one pile or burn when the weather is not favorable.
"Uncontrolled wild land fires can destroy wild life, trees and leave the earth without ground coverage; therefore, washing the top soil away with the next rainfall," she warned. "But worst of all, it can threaten human life, homes, businesses and vehicles."
Taylor said wild land fires spread rapidly and can be very unpredictable. Anyone burning in Newton County is required to get a permit and should call 770-784-2480. Callers will be advised on whether or not the weather is favorable for burning; steps to take to obtain a permit; and other informative fire safety information.
Or, the Georgia Forestry Commission recently unveiled its faster, easier burn permitting system that automatically ensures safe weather conditions for outdoor burning. By logging onto GaTrees.org 24 hours a day, users can enter registration and location data for burns of hand-piled, natural vegetations. Residents who prefer to telephone in their requests may still utilize 1-877-OK2-BURN (1-877-652-2876).
"There is a need for persons burning to follow the rules of open land burning," Taylor said.
Chief of Protection for the Georgia Forestry Commission Alan Dozier agreed.
"Now is the time for Georgians to think safety. The No. 1 cause of wildfire is back yard burns that get out of control, so it's critical to get a permit before striking a match," he said, adding that there is now an increased likelihood of wildfires.
"The lack of rainfall and tropical storm activity in the Atlantic and Gulf do have us on alert," Dozier said. "Budget reductions are being felt throughout the state and our reduced numbers of GFC Rangers need the public's assistance now more than ever."
Dozier said when weather conditions do allow for a burn permit to be issued, residents should always clear a swath wide enough to control the fire around the burn site and have tools close by to handle an escaped fire, including a hose, rake and shovel. In addition, to protect homes and other structures from wildfires, debris should be cleared from buildings' perimeters, roofs and gutters.
For more information about safe burning practices, go to GaTrees.org.